Jun 2010

How the internet is communist and advertisers are wankers

If you’ve ever been in an Internet argument about the spelling of the word humour, or tried to explain that something vaguely coincidental isn’t “ironic”, you have probably have been told that the Internet is an American invention. (Presumably we’re ignoring the fact that the Web is an Anglo-Swiss one).

So, it’s always surprised me that there’s something decidedly (and I fear to say the word) communist about the modern Internet.

No, there’s no repression of religion, and no, we’re not being sent off to fight the Germans with a broken AK-47 and a tonne of beetroot, but there is something, well, odd, going on.

How, exactly, did America – the land where the dollar rules and capitalism is king – create a system where everything has to be free? Where there is no such thing as paid content? Where nothing belongs to anyone any more?

There are websites galore out there, dedicated to republishing other people’s work. Sometimes the content is licensed under Creative Commons, or constitutes fair use under US law, but all to often it’s just a picture stolen from another website, without attribution or (worse) with the copyright-holder’s watermark overwritten with the name of the new host. There’s sites dedicated to this kind of bollocks.

Then there’s the joys of thepiratebay.org , a wonderful repository of all things. And, yes, I’ve downloaded stuff from there (normally when I can’t find my original disks or some arsehole music label has copy protected their music, to prevent my fair use of the product), but the thing also houses links to every TV show, film or audio CD you’ve ever heard of. I’m not here to argue the legal or moral positioning of this, but it’s an obvious blow to the glories of capitalism.

How has this happened?

The obvious thing happening right now is the paywalling of The Times and The Sunday Times websites. Now, I actually quite like the Sunday Times… I hate the news, but I hate the news from all sources. What I like is the blogs and features. It’s my ‘Playboy’, if you will. Yes, I know it’s famous for its news, but I read it for the features…

The problem is that The Times and Sunday Times paywall will fail. It will fail because there are a lot of other newspapers out there giving it away for free, and because the average Internet user (me included) won’t damned well pay for anything. Every newspaper in the world could go behind a paywall charging a penny a day, and the users of the Internet will ignore the sites until some little blogger sets up a site where he screen scrapes content and republishes it.

And the reason it has come to this is the advertisers that I mentioned all the way back up there in the title.

The newspapers need to had paywalls because there’s no money in advertising. And why is there no money in advertising? Because everyone is so sick of the constant stream of shite that flows from these arseholes that they actively block advertising.

Depending on who you ask, Firefox is either the greatest or second greatest web browser out there in terms of pageviews. On Firefox, the most popular add-on right now is “Adblock Plus”, with 3/4 million downloads every day, a full 50% more than the next nearest add-on.

As the title may have given away, that little add-on blocks adverts. All adverts. By blocking requests to the machines that serve adverts. The all-mighty American Internet is trying so desperately to operate without any paywalls and without any advertising. Everything needs to be provided by some mythical power because we deserve it, and no reasonable request should be ignored. And we’re reasonable. We must be, because we’re us. And while 50 years of soviet leaders would send me to Siberia for making the comparison, that’s sounding really quite close to many communist theories to me right now.

And why do people feel the need for these adblockers? Well, because of those wankers in advertising.

The first advert was banner ad was for Coors Zima (I believe) on the long dead HotWired website. It got a fantastically high click through rate (in the 20%s). So banner adverts appeared everywhere and their clickthrough rates went down.

This was 1994 and the Internet was ruled by the Animated Gif. The next step for advertisers was to make everything flash or move or jump. Suddenly everything had flashing red borders.

And advertising revenues went down.

As is the way, no-one thought “hang on… maybe instead of pissing off out customers, we should reign this circle jerk of web wankery”.

Before long Adobe released the horror that is Flash. I could rant for a long long time about graphics designers, Apple users and Adobe, but this is already long enough and sweary enough, so I’ll save that for another day.

Suddenly adverts had the ability to not only move and interact and flash, but also the ability to annoy the fuck out of people even more. Then some bastard decided that what we really, really needed was flash adverts that autoplayed music or sound effects, or which suddenly expanded to kidnap the entire of your screen.

At this point, it’s really not surprising that people grabbed at any tool offering a hint of sanity… Ad blockers.

The thing is, this blocks all adverts. It blocks the discrete, relevant adverts as much as it blocks the full screen attention stealer that screams special effects from the next horror movie.

Now, before I say this next bit, I need to make something clear – I don’t have any advertising on this site. On a good day I get a couple of hundred hits, most of whom are looking for alloy wheels on a BMW (I have no idea). I pay for it myself because the bandwidth is so low that I don’t pay any extra at my hosting company. And I don’t really want to have people selling a weird tip to making your teeth thin.

Instead I use a flash blocker to block all those deeply annoying screen stealers, and let the rest wash over me. When something really hideous gets past, I add it to my hosts file, which kills is stone dead. The rest of the time, I’m a small part in the minuscule trickle of money heading to the company that provides that which I’m reading.

Which, in a way brings me to what started this rant… A banner advert trying to sell me a coffee roasting machine. Nothing too nasty about that. Until you realise that it was an advert for the site that I went looking for coffee machines on a couple of days ago. And the advert was on boingboing.

Like I said, all advertisers are wankers…

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  • 1

    Fri 25th Jun '10
    16:51 UTC

    Your rants are always worth a read imho and this one was no exception. Adverts are so omnipresent nowadsays that it is hard to recall the times when they weren’t there. I suspect that I hardly notice them nowadays as I tend to avert my eyes on purpose and ignore them. So it was interesting to have a little history lesson!

    The piracy angle isn’t so surprising as I have found that one less than commendable human trait is a tendency to be self seeking and get ‘owt for nowt’ whenever possible, ignoring the good fairy of social conscience and justice sitting on one’s shoulder.

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